INXS Anniversary Flashback: Their 7 Best Album Tracks
Celebrating the hits that weren’t, 39 years after the band’s debut.
On September 1, 1979, the Australian band INXS performed its first-ever concert at the Ocean Beach Hotel in Umina, a suburb on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Within four years, the sextet led by Michael Hutchence — whose sexy strut and swagger was one part Mick Jagger, one part Marc Bolan, and a whole lot of Jim Morrison — would be well on its way to global glory.
I’ve been an INXS fan since that Sunday morning in spring 1983 when I heard “The One Thing,” the debut single from the group’s third album, Shabooh Shoobah, for the first time. It was the day after my birthday, and “The One Thing” was kicking off Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 radio countdown, entering Billboard’s hit list at number 40 (for the Hot 100 week ending May 14), making it INXS’s U.S. breakthrough.
(Fun fact: “The One Thing” was sandwiched between two other rising hits: Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” at 39 and Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy” at 41. Check out that week’s chart action here.)
It wasn’t until I was studying at the University of Florida eight years later that I truly appreciated INXS as so much more than a pretty face and five other guys. My then-roommate Stephanie, my BFF Maureen, and I had driven several hours from Gainesville to Melbourne (the one in Florida, not my future part-time home in Australia, birthplace of INXS) for our first INXS concert.
In between the greatest hits, the guys, who were touring to support their then-current seventh album X, slipped in several LP cuts without once losing my undivided attention. Not even The Cult and R.E.M., two of my Top 5 favorite bands at the time, quite pulled that off when I drove for hours to see them live around the same time.
Today, as I dwell on the past, I’ve come to another conclusion about INXS: With “Need You Tonight” as an anchor, Michael Hutchence and his bandmates probably could have released a completely different line-up of singles and still have made it just as big in the late-’80s. Unlike Oasis (whose Noel Gallagher once had the nerve to snark “Has-beens shouldn’t be presenting fucking awards to gonna-bes” when accepting Best Album from Hutchence at the 1996 Brits), that’s not because so many of their songs sounded like rewrites of each other.
These seven album tracks are testaments to INXS’s versatility, quality control, and avoidance of musical repetition.
“Love Is (What I Say)” (from The Swing, 1984)
Yes, the title is hopelessly pretentious (a distinct danger whenever songwriters opt to go the parenthetical route), but at 14-going-on-15, I thought what I thought Michael Hutchence was singing at the end of the “chorus” — “I don’t think we love each other/Enough to lie/Enough is enough/Fade away” — was pure poetry.
So what that he was actually singing, “I don’t think we know each other/Enough to lie/Enough is enough/Anyway”? That’s poetry, too, on an essential mid-’80s album that was overflowing with it. (Honorable mentions on The Swing: “Johnson’s Aeroplane” and the title track.)
“Same Direction” (from Listen Like Thieves, 1985)
INXS never got enough credit for the breadth of its sound. As unmistakable as Hutchence’s voice always was, The Swing and Listen Like Thieves, though a mere one year apart, didn’t even sound like the work of the same band.
It’s hard to imagine that 1987’s Kick could have happened without the new direction of Thieves, INXS first hit album in the U.S. More than any of its 11 tracks, “Same Direction” bridged the new-wavey dance moves of The Swing with the harder-rocking jolt of Thieves and the INXS to come, making it essential not only to its parent album but to the band’s canon as well.
“Wild Life” (Kick, 1987)
Like two other landmark ’87 album releases (Michael Jackson’s Bad and Whitney Houston’s Whitney), Kick was loaded with singles and B-sides, four of which went Top 10. This is the best of the four tracks that were available only on the album. Here, as on most of Kick’s middle to end, Hutchence moved and grooved like Jagger with even more charisma than Mick had shown the previous year on The Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work.
“Faith in Each Other” (from X, 1990)
“Suicide Blonde,” the opening track and first single from X, was such bleached awesomeness, how could anything that came after it live up to it? Nothing did, not even track four (or nine, “Bitter Tears,” which came closest), but most bands would kill to produce such excellent filler.
(Fun fact 2: INXS celebrated its 10th anniversary by using the Roman numeral for 10 as the title of its seventh studio album, and 17 years later, Hutchence’s former girlfriend Kylie Minogue, would give her 10th album the same title. An X homage to her ex?)
“Back on Line” and “Strange Desire” (from Welcome to Wherever You Are, 1992)
Twenty-six years after the 1992 release of INXS’s best album, these are the side-by-side INXS album tracks that I am most likely to listen to (usually on repeat) on any given day. “Strange Desire” appeared as the B-side of “Beautiful Girl” in remixed form, but by then, INXS should have known better than to mess with perfection. Honorable mentions: “Communication” and “Wishing Well.”
(Fun fact 3: Welcome was one of the first albums I ever reviewed for People magazine — glowingly, of course.)
“I’m Only Looking” (from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, 1993)
Here are three random thoughts about INXS’s penultimate Michael Hutchence-fronted album:
- “The Gift,” Full Moon, Dirty Hearts’ first single and a stunning approximation of non-grunge alternative rock circa ’93, deserved to be a much bigger hit. (At least the Brits, once again exhibiting better taste in music than us Yanks, were smart enough to send it to number 11.)
- I wonder if Ray Charles was an INXS fan before he appeared on “Please (You Got That…).”
- I met Hutchence at an album-release party the night after the morning River Phoenix died, and he used my cigarette to light his and then put mine between my lips. Who knew that he, too, would die much too young a mere four years later.
Clearly, INXS had as much respect for their non-singles as I do. Along with “Shine Like It Does” (from Listen Like Thieves and Shine Like It Does: The Anthology [1979–1997]) and “Taste It” (from Welcome to Wherever You Are and Taste It: The Collection), “I’m Only Looking” was an album cut that INXS name-dropped in the title of a compilation (the video collection I’m Only Looking — The Best of INXS).
INXS’s 10 Best Singles
10.) “Mystify” (from Kick)
9.) “Not Enough Time” (from Welcome to Wherever You Are)
8.) “New Sensation”/”Guns in the Sky” (from Kick)
7.) “Don’t Change” (from Shabooh Shoobah)
6.) “Original Sin” (from The Swing)
5.) “The Gift” (from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts)
4.) “Bitter Tears” (from X)
3.) “Need You Tonight”/”Mediate” (from Kick)
2.) “Suicide Blonde” (from X)
- ) “Heaven Sent” (from Welcome to Wherever You Are)